Q&A: Ted Burger

Demystifying artist endorsement deals.
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Artist endorsements are one of the most effective forms of advertising for musical-equipment manufacturers. Though musicians often boast about “being endorsed,” in actuality they have entered into an agreement to promote a product by offering their public endorsement in exchange for manufacturer sponsorship (free or discounted gear, road support, and so on). Megastars can satisfy their commitment simply by using products in the limelight, but lesser-known artists have to work much harder to deliver results.

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FIG. 1: Ted Burger handles endorsement deals for HHI, which owns Kustom Amplification and BC Rich Guitars, among others.
Courtesy Ted Burger

Fortunately, the Internet allows exposure to a broad audience, and that “cyber-reach,” combined with a consistent local or regional gig schedule, can generate enough visibility to justify sponsorship of lesser-known acts. It may not be easy, but it's worth the pursuit; endorsement deals have been a significant form of support for my own career. The key is to create ROI (return on investment) for manufacturers by promoting their products to their target audiences. As long as you only endorse brands that you would use regardless of a deal, promoting products that contribute to your artistry is natural.

I asked Ted Burger (see Fig. 1), who handles artist relations for the multibrand music manufacturer Hanser Holdings International (HHI), to shed some light on who gets what and why. HHI artist endorsers include Joe Perry, Slash, and Kerry King for BC Rich Guitars; the Brian Wilson Band, Tracii Guns, Van Zant, and yours truly for Kustom Amplification; and Jason Newsted, Bootsy Collins, and others for the Michael Kelly Guitar Company and the Traben Bass Company, to name a few.

How important are endorsement deals in terms of an overall marketing strategy?

In our industry, I believe they are very important. Because music has to do with creativity, feeling, and emotion, there are many factors involved in why someone chooses to play a specific instrument, other than just physical specifications, price, etc. I don't know a single musician who didn't grow up idolizing some other musician because of his playing ability or “cool” factor. What that idol played is all a part of the memory and mojo of an instrument, if you will. I believe it still affects every musician, young and old. Having someone influential playing your instrument truly can give it a “cool” factor. Also, for a product that is in its younger stages of brand recognition, having it played by an artist who has mass appeal can really turn many people on to it.

Do artists receive free or discounted gear when endorsing products?

We do both. The level of endorsement is decided on a case-by-case basis. It depends on what we feel our return on investment will be. A musician who plays in front of a large crowd of our target audience every night is going to be at a higher endorsement level than one who has not proven himself to be that influential. I am not talking simply about an artist's crowd size and CD sales. That can be a factor, but I would rather have a guitar or amp onstage with an artist who draws a crowd of 1,000 people — 600 of whom are guitar players — than a pop artist that may draw 20,000 nonmusicians. It is all about inspiring the target audience to go to the store and try out your instrument.

Are deals contracted in writing?

I have represented companies that never use contracts and others that always require one. For a young company trying to establish a name by gathering a roster of young artists who they hope will break big, it is a good idea to have a contract because as the artist gains recognition, other companies will call. You don't want to invest a lot of time and money into an artist just to have them jump ship. For larger, more established brands, it is not necessarily as important because one specific artist may not make or break the company or its artist budget.

What are the primary responsibilities of each party?

In our agreement, the artist provides the company with pictures of himself using the instrument, quotes as to why he has chosen to use that instrument, and an agreement to use that instrument (and sometimes only that one) for appearances. The company agrees to supply that artist with a specified number of instruments per year or will grant him the ability to purchase them at reduced prices, depending on the deal. Some larger deals will also include a commitment by the company to use the artist in a certain amount of ads and promotions throughout the term of the contract. Also, in cases when signature instruments are involved, the artist can sometimes be paid a royalty per each one sold.

Beyond contractual obligations, what do you expect from the artist and what else do you provide?

There is definitely an unwritten agreement that the artist will promote the instrument in good faith by talking about it in interviews, using it during live performances, and generally representing the company in a positive light. If they have chosen to be associated with an instrument and company, it is in their best interest to do so anyway. Quite often we will do co-promotions with an artist in conjunction with CD releases, tours, special signings, and other promotions. That may consist of anything from providing giveaway instruments to providing other promotional materials for contests, giveaways, etc.

How many deal requests do you get in a given month from new artists, and what is the selection process?

I would estimate that I probably get 60 to 80 new requests per month (that is amongst all four major brands that I currently represent). As a musician, I would love to say that it is all about the talent and music. However, as much as that is a part of it, realistically from a business standpoint certain things stand out: the number of live shows per year the artist plays and the size of the crowds; the strength of their following, as well as its demographic (guitar players, keyboard players, nonmusicians); if they have a legitimate management company; if they are on a legitimate record label that I know will promote the band; if the artist is a good musician who would represent the instrument well; and recommendations from other artists whom I respect.

How can independent artists or bands who don't play to big crowds every night demonstrate endorsement value?

It's a judgment call and gut feeling on my part about the band. If they are playing a lot of dates consistently (not necessarily to huge crowds), seem to be organized, and have that “something” about them that makes us feel like it's a good fit, we would consider working with them on an artist-pricing level. This is a win-win situation because the band gets gear at a cheaper price and manufacturers aren't losing money or giving away their budget to an unproven band. However, manufacturers can't sell gear at cut-rate prices to every local band playing lots of gigs. Every manufacturer has a dealer network of retail stores that sell our equipment — that's the bottom line of our business and we cannot undercut our retailers. Our ultimate goal is to drive business into a retail store, not steal it away. So even at a local or regional level, there are lots of factors involved in making those decisions. That's why a band at that level must really stand out to get a manufacturer's attention — artists must work very hard to consistently move their careers forward and keep manufacturers informed of their progress. When it reaches a point where the relationship will be beneficial for both parties, it will happen.

How valuable are artists' mailing lists and other forms of promotion (local radio, cable TV, email signatures, etc.) if they include an endorsement of your product?

Any and all promotions and mailings would be looked at along with all other aspects when considering someone for an endorsement. While the number of fans they reach is important, it is also important to consider who their audience is and if it is made up of our target audience. Who they reach is definitely as important as how many.

How should an artist approach a manufacturer and what should they submit?

It's best to first contact me by email. Then I send out our standard endorsement application outlining all the materials and information that we need. Once the artist provides us with those, we can make a decision.

Ravi (www.HeyRavi.com), former guitarist of three-time Grammy nominee Hanson, tours the country performing, lecturing, and conducting guitar clinics. He writes for several magazines, and Simon & Schuster published his tour journal.